This episode has a real challenge on its hands: make Mini’s knuckleheaded horndog boyfriend, Nick, into something resembling likeable. On the surface, Nick has it all, the hot girlfriend and the captaincy of the college rugby team. He’s also shredded Mini’s self-esteem by pressuring her into sex, and for good measure, nearly destroyed a friendship by sleeping with her long-time best friend, Liv.
Nick appears to be a great big swaggering cock of a young man, acting like a braying wanker whenever he’s with his teammates, sleeping with his girlfriend’s friend. To humanise him is a monumental task, and one which this episode just about pulls off. If only it didn’t start off like an episode from the last generation.
It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. When you see Alistair McGowan as a South African rugby coach, complete with comedy accent, we’re brought back into the bad old days of generation 2. It’s even less subtle when head of the family, Leon Levan, makes his own son, Matty, sign a contract stating he will not act out of line.
Leon Levan is a life coach for whom failure isn’t just frowned upon, it’s there to be beaten until it becomes pure success! Being suicidal is just admitting failure, as he tells his colleague, who’s trying to top himself. It’s all like a bad episode of Shameless.
But once the tone gets serious for a while, we see the obvious brotherly love that Nick has for Matty. A love that turns to extreme envy at Matty’s free and easy approach to life, turning destructive when he sees Matty having sex with Liv he can only dream about.
There’s one scene in this episode, in particular, that encapsulates Nick’s characterisation. After trashing his place out of sheer frustration, Nick roams the streets of Bristol swigging from half a bottle of cheap vodka. Looking like shit and with a head full of madness, he introduces himself as Matty to a passing woman who then generously takes him back to her place to snort coke and make the beast with two backs. At first, Nick can’t believe his luck. But his conscience kicks in when he finds out she’s a mother.
This sets off a chain reaction of self realisation in Nick. The emptiness of his relationship with Mini. The need for someone to stand up to his domineering dad. The need to make peace with his brother. And most importantly, learn to not be so self-centred.
If there’s a weak link, both Sean Teale and Sebastien De Souza just don’t convince as Nick and Matty. Both are fine in small doses, but cannot carry a whole episode with their stiff, awkward performances, only coming alive when smashing the place up.
Alex Arnold as Rich can also be a bit one note, but is still totally believable. Sean Teale is just too wooden as the supposed extroverted rugger captain.
After a shaky start, this episode soon clicks into place during the second half. Despite the wooden acting from the leads, there’s some great writing shining through. Once we start to learn about Nick’s home life, we understand him better. And it’s a credit to Skins that one of its most unlikeable characters is also one of its most nuanced.